The Banner Saga 2
The world is dark, cold, and unforgiving. In fact, the world is coming to an end. This is the backdrop for the second installment of Stoic’s Nordic tactical role-playing series – a place where lives hang in the balance. Not all will survive in this bittersweet journey through beautifully created caves, marshes, and skybridges, but the grim backdrop exudes a dignified grace. Even as your favorite characters give their lives fending off the never-ending swarms of Dredge and ensuring the civilian-packed caravan makes it to its final destination, Austin Wintory’s tunes combine with the unique artstyle to create a wholly unique experience.
The tactical RPG tasks players with moving pieces tile-to-tile, with careful planning going a long way toward taking on the hordes of Dredge and other opponents. Banner Saga 2 enhances the systems of its predecessor by offering new classes with new abilities – the most extreme being the Horseborn, who can execute charging attacks and get an additional movement phase after their turns. I stuck with a powerful mix focused on ranged abilities with big and burly Varl up front and high-power archer and caster abilities from the backline, but I had the most fun playing with the new options, especially the support-oriented Ravens crew.
You are tasked with handling two main parties, each with separate characters and composition options. One party follows your successors and survivors from the events of the last game, led by either Rook or Alette. This is more traditional fare, and feels very much the same as the first game, with frequent battles and a deep roster to customize your playstyle (with new enemies creating additional wrinkles in battle).
The second group, the Ravens, is led by notable character Bolverk, a berserker. Bolverk and his crew are more interesting and entertaining, as the team composition revolves around making Bolverk unstoppable in combat through buffs and support, and letting the bloodthirsty brute tear through enemies with ease. Players have to be careful though, as berserkers like Bolverk don’t distinguish between friend and foe when they get up close in the thick of combat, so positioning gets tricky. Despite more variation in combat from the original title, repetitive combat still drags the experience down.
While the core story delves deeper into the lore and portents the end of the world, the chance meetings and world interactions are drab. Whether you’re fighting a gang of zealous witch hunters or just some poor tagalongs down on their luck, the events seem to carry little weight from choice to choice. With no end to random bandits or gangs of angry peasants, these interactions seem to lack some of the depth and weight that was powerful in the original game.
Story engagements are more interesting, and come with the threat of serious repercussions; sending characters to take the enemy by surprise can remove them from your character pool forever. I love that choices matter and shape the story, but I didn’t like this permadeath in the original, and I don’t like it now. I get that this aspect is part of the challenge, but it’s still frustrating to commit resources from your limited pool of renown (experience/currency) and have a beloved character end up on a funeral pyre.
The Banner Saga 2 carries the banner onward for the series, and while it’s made a few steps forward in creating more interesting tactical decisions and has added some more options for customization, it seems to have taken a step back in terms of making your journey across the world memorable. If you enjoyed the first chapter, you are ready for a great time continuing your tale right where you left off. If you’re new to the series, you should play the original and start the saga from the beginning.